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Veterans gear up for battle with county officials

VFW Post 6885 hires lawyer for capacity-citation struggle with officials

Posted: August 27, 2009 9:47 p.m.
Updated: August 28, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Vietnam Navy veteran John Sloan, left, and Naval Mobile Construction Batallion veteran John Olesh are currently dealing with the Department of Regional Planning because the veterans are opposed to the plot plans organization is enforcing for the VFW Post 6885 in Canyon Country.

 
A battle between a county planning agency and a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Canyon Country has left many veterans in the Santa Clarita Valley feeling unwanted.

"We did all your fighting and dying, now we're not good enough," said John Sloan, a Navy sailor who served in Vietnam and is now a member of VFW Post 6885.

Los Angeles County regional planners are clashing with the VFW over the number of patrons the post can hold during events. It's the latest squabble between VFW Post 6885 and city and county authorities, in a series that dates back to the early 1990s.

The most recent struggle was born on the Fourth of July.

The post paid an Independence Day tribute to the men and women of the military returning home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The post offered a free meal to any active duty military member who showed up that day with a military ID or uniform.

"This is our job. We are a charitable organization," said VFW Post 6885 Commander John Olesh, a Vietnam veteran who also served in the Navy.

The post promoted the July 4 event through fliers and on its Web site, which tipped off county regional planners.

"We knew they had an event planned with more than the allowable occupancy," said Oscar Gomez, supervising planner for the Regional Planning Department.

He said attendance at the post that night swelled to more than its 200-person limit.

So regional planning officials crashed the party, tallying the number of guests and issuing the VFW post a citation.

Prior to the Fourth of July sting, officials with the Department of Regional Planning had told post members they could exceed the 200-person capacity if they bought a special event permit for $185. But the VFW post failed to purchase the permit.

The post canceled the rest of its public events after the July 4 fiasco, costing the club thousands of dollars in revenue that normally flows through the cash registers to the pockets of those in need, Olesh said.

VFW Post 6885 has recently raised money for cancer patients and crime victims.

However, the citation didn't spell the demise of the veterans group. They fought back.

The post members met with the county department of public works, which told the post members they could hold more than 600 people there.

However, officials with that agency said they don't have the final say in the matter. The decision-making authority lies with the regional planning department.

The veterans plan to appeal the capacity citation, but that appeal has not been filed yet, said Henry Knebel, attorney for the post.

Clashes between government entities and VFW Post 6885 date back to the early 1990s when the post was located in Sand Canyon. (Complaints by neighbors pushed the post out of the tony community to its current location.)

Olesh admits the veterans weren't the best neighbors when the post was in Sand Canyon, but that has changed since moving to Sierra Highway in Canyon Country, Olesh said.

"We're a family organization with members who are former law enforcement officers and hardworking guys," Sloan said. "We get a bad rap because some of us like to ride motorcycles."

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